The last post!

Guys.

My new author site is bethstillmanblaha.com.

March 22, 2021 would have been six whole years of blogging as Donovan Reads.

Six years on a project that I started just to get my feet wet in writing internet content. March 2015 I had a two and a half year old child and my doctorate and it was time to start thinking about what exactly was on my writing bucket list. How was I going to fulfill the writing dreams I had since I was a kid, dreams that were waylaid when I decided to spend my formal schooling opportunities becoming a Psychologist?

I spent years either not writing or writing some nonfiction because academia numbed out my creativity. My creativity had to be dormant or I wouldn’t have made it so far in my professional healing career, which is just as much what I feel called to do in this life as be a writer. But we got to 2015 and I had finally recouped enough sleep to make sentences and have an interest in what was next.

The easiest writing advice, for me, in the entire world, came next: read read read, and read with intention. Read what you’d like to write and notice what works and what doesn’t. Read with a new lens. And since reading was the first thing I turned to when grad school slowed enough for hobbies other than mindless internet games, and reading got me through the interminable first few months as a new and slightly ambivalent mom, it was the perfect place for me to start.

And then writing about what I learned from books, all these years with you, has helped tremendously, exposing me to all sorts of writing with reading challenges, and building my empathy, structure my reading and help me really think about what I want to write, and the blog keeping me consistent, and keeping me supporting and reviewing indie writers because now I am at the brink of becoming one myself.

This is where I wanted the blog to get me, but it’s really not ending here. I’m just moving to a more formal author website and I hope you’ll come with me. It will be more YA reads and not as much of the wide reading I’ve done here, but it will still be talking about books, and my love of audiobooks, and magic, and diversion books as well as the ones you really gotta work for but you’re glad, in the end, that you did it. Books have just been my survival, and with the life I’ve chosen, been blessed with, I’ll always be more of a reader.

In case anyone has been thinking of becoming a book blogger, here are some of my favorite hacks:

wordpress, obviously, for it’s extreme user friendliness in all aspects.

canva.com for graphics, for someone with no knowledge of graphics and only limited need for them

pexels.com is my favorite place for stock images. I have been using completely open license for my author site because of the commercial nature but since I made zero dollars from this blog I used pexels.

NYPL card for ebooks and audiobooks, if you’re a resident of New York State like I am. The Simply E app sometimes gives me a hassle with audiobooks but the selection is so much bigger and I send money to the NYPL out of guilt because I definitely do not pay NYC taxes.

Librivox is good for public domain stuff, more so when I was reading the older classics from which to build a base. I’m not so drawn now to the stories written that were more from people with the means to write and not necessarily the same editorial context of today. I’m having an increasingly harder time spending hours and hours on stories and coming to care about characters who end up like unnecessarily dying in poverty. I’m looking at you, Edith Wharton. But, Librivox is freakin awesome when I’m thinking about reading some older classics to brush up into something modern.

Honestly, though, my authoring karma has caused me to spend more on books, not less, as I’d like people to do that for me when my time comes. I’ve pre-ordered some books this Spring to support authors, and I don’t always stalk prices before buying. Sometimes I’ll be excited enough an author to just buy something I want. If someone has made my reader’s heart sing, they deserve to be paid for it. If someone has made it as an author, they deserve to be paid for it. It’s so hard. So, so hard. I have to cheer for others who have gotten there.

Book blogging has been a great side project and I entered it with a do-it-and-see attitude. Not attaching to outcomes has become easier as I get older and I hope it will continue to do so. Because of this starter project I’m confident I can generate content for my author page.

New author site: bethstillmanblaha.com. I have a post over there today too. Please hop over 🙂 I have not worked out how to be followed yet, wordpress makes a nice “follow” button but I moved to Squarespace because someone I’m considering hiring prefers to work with Squarespace and can guide me with it.

Please go check out my skeletal site, where I’ll be blogging to begin making content as the details of my book, that will be launched this year, are worked out. Title and graphics are still in progress, as well as magnet material and other decisions I didn’t exactly anticipate.

I am so grateful to everyone that has taken the time to read and especially comment on my content. You know how important you are to me and I want to keep you. I anticipate this is my last post on here before the domain expires in a month. I need to start populating and learning my author site, as much as it would be nice to continue on here.

A New Year: 2020 Specs and 2021 Goals

Yas!  Okay so everyone is pumped to see 2020 go.  Me too. The Oatmeal had the best cartoon about it up on FB that explains all my feelings.  If you don’t know about The Oatmeal, consider that my Donovan Reads official holiday gift to all you lovely readers, for whom I am grateful.

Gratitude is the way to begin any new venture.  Raise your vibration to let the light in and the manifestation happen!  I have to keep this in mind as we enter a January that might be even darker than most.

This post is my 2020 roundup and my goals for 2021 all together in one bit.   One juicy post with specs and what you need to know about my 2021 (and, of course, feel free to comment and share where you are for this, the lovely first Sunday of the New Year).

My 2020 specs according to goodreads is a little off because I did not count every book I enjoyed listening to with my son.  I didn’t record my third go round with Harry Potter. I thought about it and didn’t want to put in all the effort.  So it’s an under estimation, really, as Audible has a different report than Goodreads about how I spent this trip around the sun.

2020:  78 books, 26994 pages

Goodreads goal, which I like to set last minute, was 75.  I wish they counted books before you set a goal.   

Shortest book 31 pages, Tarot for Creatives

Longest book 829 pages, Winter, Marissa Meyer

Kindle specs (as of my phone app): 

Read:  477

Unread:758

I made it through all of my Susanna Kearsley books and all the Lunar Chronicles books.  Susanna was definitely my most hoarded and unread author.  I also did the Linda Lafferty historical fictions, the Jandy Nelsons and some other YA staples that had to be read for someone trying to get into the market.I have a lot of Nero Wolfe books but they have all been read. At the end of last year I went through my books and grouped them according to series, short stories, and similar themes, and I might go back and group them by what year I bought them too to work on who has been there the longest if I’m not sure.   The biggest grouping that got knocked out was my Halloween reads, to be sure.  

These numbers only feel okay to me.  I feel like still having 758 unread is a lot, and, full disclosure, I have actually taken to deleting some of the early stuff I got in 2010 that was all public domain when I wasn’t entirely sure of what I wanted to read and have.  I still have books that I am ambivalent about that have sat unread for almost ten years but those have audiobooks now to them and I still have some interest.  I realize that 80 books a year times a smidge under 80 books with my love of new books and library books means it will still be ten years plus at this pace.

Which is why 2021 will still be a read down. I see the other challenges.  I see Modern Mrs. Darcy and I see Popsugar and BookRiot.  I see you guys out there tempting me to push out my reading horizons, but I have to get through what I have.  I still have a ton of series I haven’t done that I want to, and I have LOADS of short story collections. 

Writing has to happen this year, but guess what:  if I read about the same as last year I can make it to a thousand books read on my Goodreads!  I would like to achieve the thousandth book.

I wanted to see how I did with my book buying but I ordered a lot of credits for a game I like to play so I have too many pages of digital orders to go through. I know at the end of June I took a tally and I slid off the wagon a little when I discovered Hester Fox but I think that I actually did pretty well with not buying new books. I will do audio of books I already have to get them read, and this round up for the new wave of reading down has been no different.

Also, audible adding a catalog of included titles for free in the membership?  Holy crap.  Totally love it.

The biggest challenge I’m anticipating is what I collected in my more classic novel phase a few years ago when I was really starting to be mindful of reading to build up a decent exposure to stories through time to work on my writing, which really I committed more to in 2015 when my son allowed me enough sleep and time to myself to start in with that adult bucket list item.  Classic novels have become difficult now not only because they can be slow but also because I just don’t want to read about the tragedy anymore.  The lovely women and men who just make terrible choices for themselves and throw it all away without the redemption and the more modern literary devices to make it marketable.  I mean some of the depressing literary stuff still makes it out there but I feel like Edith Wharton, if she was trying to break into publishing today, would have been forced to make a happier ending for House of Mirth. Do I want to tackle Portrait of a Lady by Henry James?  I do not.  Will I take it off my TBR?  Unlikely.  Also, I’ve moved away from some of the hefty tomes in favor of getting more books read.  Like, do I want to spend 32 hours on The Goldfinch?  It’s not like 2008 anymore and I’m not a single woman holed up in a rented room without a smartphone to ruin my attention span anymore.

I continue to read some stuff in the public domain as well because I can modernize them for my own stories.  Which leads me to the writing goals next.

Writing in 2020:  I had some wins.  I did a piece of flash for the first 70 days of the coronavirus lockdown and I got the opening pages of my novel where I want them as well as another big edit for it, cutting out 10k words.  I had my first and only request to see a full manuscript.  I got two more flash and another short publication under my belt and I continued to do my 12 short stories.

But I decided last month I can’t do the finding an agent and go the traditional route anymore.  I promised myself that 2020 was going to be about joy, and largely it has been about that in my personal world.  I have a lot of creative and spiritual accomplishments from the past year that really feel good.  I’m starting this year better than last to be certain.  And one of those ways I am starting it better is by knowing that even though I have only queried about half the number recommended for agents, I just want to build my own empire.  I have a self publishing consultation booked this week with someone whose empire I admire and who I’d like to look over my work and get it out there, without the subjective rat race that’s so full of uncertainty.  It will be work, time and money, but this January will be three years on this project, and as how that was how long it took to get my doctoral project finished, I am ready to stop battling with myself over if I need to keep investing the energy in it or just let it sit on my hard drive for all time, unseen for the larger world.

Remind me I said this when I am in the throes of building an author platform or I have anxiety about approaching local bookstores for signing.  And when hopefully post corona the library can have another local authors fair, or when I decide to drive north for hours to participate in an Adirondack Writer’s Conference to get it out there.  It’s work and anxiety but it’s all back in my control.

And you never know what can happen if the book gets out there and someone who would have initially overlooked it develops an interest?  I am paying people to help me make this book the best it can possibly be without relying on gatekeepers to even get to those talents. 

I am going to continue to write shorts.  I like flash, and I love my 12 short stories, and some of my reading, especially all the nonfiction I got that I thought I needed in preparation for the book that has already been written, can be used as fodder for more stories. Because having ideas flowing and not worrying so much about immediate outcome and publication is important.  It’s a form of spirituality.  

And, speaking of spirituality, there are more spiritual books I have on deck as well as some online material I am planning on consuming as far as meditation and intuition.  I continue to work on tarot reading and crystals, too.  But the changes coming to this blog will be about managing the book I want to get out there, not about the magic of divination, despite my love of divination.

Where’s your 2021 at?  Are you ready to dip your toes and be hopeful and make projects for any possible added time at home?  

Comments/Likes/Shares!

The Writing Nook

Even though A Room of One’s Own was penned 90 years ago this year, there are parts of it that still ring true today.    As a married woman and a mother I bring no scandal to my family (scandal, no, grief, maybe) by being a writer, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want my own space and time in which to do it.  And headspace.

My husband built me a she shed more for the challenge and creativity of it, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t move my happy butt in there.

Right now it’s mostly used for sleeping out in with my son on the weekends, even in the winter, because it has heat that keeps it warmer than the 40 degrees required for the sleeping bags that we use way more than I anticipated when I bought them. My husband likes to remind me that my solitary time will only increase as my son grows older,  increasing my time to enjoy the cabin.

And then he uses that to show me pictures of ATVs he wants to buy our son to play on.  Think of all the writing you can do if we get this expensive toy, honey!

I’m not the best photographer.  I got insta to help move the blog but this combined with the fact that I rarely read a physical book anymore, and I don’t get bookmail, makes me more obsessed with tiny houses and people’s dogs and nature photos.

I want to spend my time writing, not bookstagramming, at least not right now.   Although it looks fun and I’d love to cozy up to some of those book influencers when I need them.  I like especially when they post with pets.

Bearing with my bad photography, here is my beautiful space:

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Kitchen area, with microwave and mini fridge!  The lanterns are candle holders and yes that’s a small Christmas tree stashed!  I have winter woodland wonderland themed ornaments to go on it.  Coffee is made via french press and electric teakettle.  I have a lot of mugs for someone who doesn’t entertain much but I love them.  Also the tea towels get traded out for winter or spring.  The winter towels are cardinals and birds on winter trees.  These are the spring ones and they are ornamental due to my really wanting an excuse to buy bird towels at Joann’s because their spring decor line always takes my money.

Plus there is always wine handy and I have a margarita set in there that I got for my wedding but I have NEVER USED.  Damn, I spend too much time reading and writing.

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Just some knitted accessories and a teapot and the birdfeeder teapot I need to hang outside once I get another spot to hang things from the trees because birds and teapots? I love having the birds back this spring.  I missed hearing them this winter.

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My little table for two, or for writing, or dyeing yarn in a crockpot which is TOTALLY happening at some point.  Notice some books piled up on the side and there’s a spare notebook and pens because I had a pen crap out on me there one day and I had no backup and it was an unacceptable state of affairs.  It’s also where the tree goes during the relevant season.    Plus ruffly curtains.

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This is the view from the steps leading up to the loft.  Tons of natural light and you can see the deck and the fireplace.   The loft is a mess with stuffies that my son brings out with him and our sleeping bags and my lap desk.  It needs a screen door for air in the summer.

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A cozy reading spot with a quilt on it with kitties and birds that my friend made just for my space!  So I can sit and read here if I want to if I don’t feel like the table.

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The electric fireplace that saves us all winter.  And the candleholders I loved having an excuse to buy.  My pretty forest view, which is better in the summer but I didn’t want to wait to post.

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Bird detail on the stained glass window that you pass on your way up the steps to the loft.

I can update this in the summer with my summer deck accessories, as I have chairs and a garden table to hold plants.  My hubs might add a deck to the back too.   It has electricity and wifi and a fan for the summer.

A shed of my own!

I have been making progress on my writing.  I sent some projects out to be considered for publication so I need to try to put them out of my mind while I am waiting for a response from editors.  My fingers are crossed, but at least I’m doing the work.  It’s the only way stuff will happen is if I put my hat in the ring.

Did I mention I wrote a sonnet?  I wrote a dang sonnet for my 12 poems in 12 months group.  If you are a writer just looking to be more consistent and a forum for being experimental, definitely look at that site or 12 short stories.

Comments/likes/shares!

 

2018 Prize Winners warning me not to quit my day job

It still resonates with me that when the Goodreads Choice Awards came up last year, I hadn’t read that came out that year to vote on.  It was an awesome reason why I hadn’t read anything that was in the running, but I missed reading the new stuff.  I usually try to hit the prizewinners of the year as well as some of the releases that look good.  I am going to try to read some 2019 releases, but before I did that, I caught up on two major prize winners for 2018.

I have been catching up too on other books that have been on the TBR too long, too, which will be discussed as the year goes on.

(Also, happy fourth Blog-A-Versary to me!  It’s kept me writing and thinking about my reading, which is awesome.)

Interesting about both of the prize winners I talk about have to do with the life of the writer, among other things. And the writerly talk is depressing, which makes me feel that I am brave as I am submitting and writing for immediate submission more than ever before in my adult life.  But I’m not sure how real my bravery is because I have a day job that, although it burns out my brain to the point where it can be hard to write on the side, I feel good about, fulfilled, and proud of, and how my writing career does or does not pan out will not detract from a sense of satisfaction as it already is.  So it frees me up a little emotionally, without all my eggs in one basket, so to speak.

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The Friend, Sigrid Nunez

National Book Award Winner 2018

This haunting story is a warning:  don’t spend your life on writing if you can possibly make a life out of anything else.  Even the writer successes in this one come with crippling disappointment and anti-climactic teaching careers. There’s a lot of suicide.  The person that the main character is addressing through the novel is a victim of suicide.  A brilliant person who couldn’t be alone and was relegated to dealing with students, and then after his death gives the narrator a dog of his that is completely impractical for her to take care of, on top of heartbreaking.  Because I love having pets but they always break your heart when they die.  And this is a big dog that barely fits in her apartment and won’t live long  besides.  I spent part of the book praying this wouldn’t be a redo of The Art of Racing in the Rain where I just sobbed like an idiot for an hour at the end.

Despite the depressing story, it was still beautifully written and astute.  It wouldn’t be as depressing if it wasn’t as astute.  The artistry, to me, was that the narrator could wander into different parts of the story and it flowed beautifully from one aspect to the other:  the wives of the friend who gave her the dog, why they weren’t lovers and why his wives were jealous of this, how she gets the dog, how writing/teaching writing sucks, then more about how she gets to keep the dog, and then some on her therapy sessions to manage her grief and reflect on her not getting married or having a family herself, and what this means about her particular grief.  And then more about the relationship with the dog, and then more about her relationship to the dead person that she addresses throughout in second person.  Then some ex wife backstory. It was beautifully done.  Sometimes I was like, how did I get over here to this aspect of the story?  I could use more practice making things flow like that.

Also, this was another one that I mistakenly thought fit into a BookRiot category.  I thought the dog might narrate this business.  The weird cover with the dog suggests that.  The dog isn’t what makes the cover weird, it’s the blocks of color .  I’m like really, because a lot of people die in this at their own hand after years of emptiness. The dog is cool but the primary school colors gives the wrong vibe here.  Thank goodness this beautiful depression was short.

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Less, Andrew Sean Greer

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, 2018

This one looked completely unappealing to me for like, ever.   I wasn’t sure I’d care about the protagonist and his issues.  It’s a little first world problem-y in an Eat Pray Love kind of way.  Like, yeah, a major relationship ending is hard, but it’s a little easier when you can shake it off traveling the world, and, oh yeah, maybe live some writer dreams.

Except that these are only dubious writer dreams. He wrote maybe one notable book of a few of them, and some people have read them, but not to the point he would be recognized on a plane or anything. He’s up for an award, but his publisher rejects his most recent attempt at a novel and he’s trying to fix it, despite some follies that get in the way, and the whole reason he’s even on this trip with it’s weird bouts of illness, faulty German, bizarre clothes and random lovers is to avoid an ex boyfriend’s wedding.   His honors are dubious and the author is very funny, and it had an appreciable twist at the end.  I didn’t know how it would end, and nearer the end I suspected I was getting a surprise, but I liked how it ended.  Compulsively readable, almost as much so as Where’d You Go, Bernadette.  Heavy warnings that if you can do anything other than write with your life, you probably should.

So, good for me I have done that. Getting traction with submitting writing has proven to be slow.  I become intimidated when researching a publication by what they have accepted, so sometimes it’s easier for me to just look at a call for submissions, see if I can think up anything fast enough, and go.  All these, MFA, previously published in, I don’t know, Harpers, Tin House, The New Yorker, places I don’t know if I would ever have the stones to send anything to.  My first rejection of the year was very kindly done, even if it was a form email.  It told me to keep up the hope. These stories tell me to focus my energies elsewhere.

I’m trying to do a better job looking at new releases this year.

I hope Spring is starting to take decent hold, wherever you are.  D vitamins have helped, but every winter gets long.

Comments/likes/shares!

 

2019: the Intentions

So it’s all died down post holidays and in theory we are all back to our regular, and where I am, wintry lives for the next few weeks, and a new year ahead to fill with goals and speculation.

I have to focus on writing again this year, especially this winter, when obligations slow down for awhile.  No holidays, not yet sports, I need to run more over the winter but not blasting out long runs to prepare for races.  Here it is, the time to do it.  And before it gets stale.  Writing goals for 2019: (universe take note)

  1. Finish revising the novel I was working at last winter/spring.  It’s half revised and I know what I need to do with the rest.  I am experiencing some crippling doubt around it, afraid that if I dust it back off I will want to burn it all.  My consolation is I had a teacher getting me through it and reading much of it, so it can’t be that bad.  Right?  I won’t look at it and see unfixable writing disasters…right?  And then I am paying for a professional critique, fraught with the same anxiety that a new pair of eyes will be like, thanks for the three dollars a page but this sucks, I have nothing to say to un-suck this thing, you wasted all your time.

2. Revise the first novel I wrote that I also got some awesome ideas from my teacher on what to do with it. It’s not as complicated as the second novel I wrote, that one might be more fun and flow better to punch up.  And I have had more time with it.  Her comments are always energizing and I particularly liked the new breath she suggested I breathe into it.

3. Put something else out there to start getting traction as a writer.  Whether I want to do wattpad, revise three shorts/novellas I have been working on and try my luck self publishing on kindle, get a Submittable account and look into my sources on getting published in literary magazines/journals, something.  As you can see, I’m not entirely sure how I will go about getting my traction.  It’s less about making money (hence wattpad or if I tried a little KDP it would be a dollar a story or something) and more about this is what else you can look at as I eventually do want to send out my novel(s).  And my not being sure the details on this one yet is about focusing my emotional energy right now at facing goal #1.  I can work on other places and pieces when I am waiting for it to come back from being critiqued and I can’t get sidetracked by those.

4. Do my third year of 12 Short Stories.  If you don’t know what it is, it is a writing challenge where people submit a short story every month based on a prompt, hosted by Writer’s Write based out of South Africa. I have been experimenting, stretching my wings a little, and above all it keeps my cogs turning and keeps me writing.  Like this blog keeps me writing and thinking about what I read and why.  And because I did it from the very first prompt at the group’s inception back in 2016 when it was a Facebook page and not a wordpress site and I can’t stop now!  I been there since the start.   And I won their first writing contest, which got #1 on paper.   It’s moved me closer to my goals than I ever anticipated.

So all these writing goals on a primarily reading blog. Of course.  I can’t focus on binge reading all through this year, sadly.  I already started falling back into binge reading in December, knocking out Christmas reads and the last two challenges on BookRiot.   Similarly, there will be no Snow Read 2019 like there wasn’t one for 2018, and I will not pick a reading goal on Goodreads until later in the year, like I did this year when writing was on hold for everything else that had to happen.  No 5 over 500.

I will go back to blogging one book a week, except next week, because I already noted  that I got back into binge reading and the three books I tackled between Christmas and New Year deserve a post together.  As a final binge read tribute before I go back to swimming around in my self doubt and puzzling through weird thoughts when I am not working or parenting.  Or maybe when I am doing those things.  I bet I could come up with some brilliant things while racing my son in Mario Kart.  I found out I could reasonably follow a book in one ear too, as long as it wasn’t super complicated, while I play Mario with him.

But there will still be reading.  I am going to do BookRiot 2019 and already did one category and started another. There still has to be reading or else I will perish.  And maybe more reading than last year because I am not starting a project from a few jotted ideas and half of them turned out to be boring.  Ironing out foibles is possibly easier, but it still requires getting into a head space, and someone else’s story can crowd that head space.  Like my full time job does as well.  Yeah, that thing that stands in the way of flooding the world with my writing.

Just another note about BookRiot: I will be trying to read what I already have if I have something that fits the category.  Thankfully it’s happening pretty often as I am poking around the internets for the right choice:  I still want to read Exit West and that’s a category fitter, as well as some NK Jemisin, totally late to the party on her I think, Still trying to read down the backlist. I looked on my Amazon account yesterday and I definitely have over a thousand ebooks, which doesn’t count the piles of physical books engulfing my spaces in the house.  I still want to read down my TBR.  Desperately.   Maybe this also was why I didn’t pay attention to a lot of new releases in 2018 (I didn’t even read Circe or Less or Children of Blood and Bone or The Power or Milkman! But I have since procured Circe and I have the audio tagged on my library account).   And as I am writing this post I see Charlie Holmberg has a Kindle First release this month and I totally bought it with the audio.  I’m trying, I really am.

And if I can get in some short stories as challenge categories, I will shoot for that as well.  I could get some more short stories in via podcasts too.  If I stay away from the hilarity that is Literary Disco and let LeVar Burton read to this 80’s kid just a little bit more.

Wow, I was dreading this post a little because I was feeling unfocused for the new year, binge reading and learning how to crochet a granny square for like the third time while being perfectly aware I don’t need a new craft while I have a book to revise. It had more to say that I thought I did.  It always helps to make your intentions known.

I intend to finish at least one novel. And by finish, I mean something I feel is ready to be sent out for consideration for publication.

I intend not to start dyeing yarn in a crockpot either even though that’s a pretty writer-friendly hobby.

Comments and likes? Encouragement?  Happy 2019!